Unknowable God

To deny all the qualities of a being is equivalent to denying the being itself. A being without qualities is one which cannot become an object to the mind, and such a being is virtually non-existent. To the truly religious man, God is not a being without qualities, because to him it is a positive, real being. The theory that God cannot be defined, and consequently cannot be known by man, is therefore the offspring of recent times, a product of modern unbelief.

The proposition that God is unknowable or undefinable, can only be enunciated and become fixed as a dogma, where this object has no longer any interest for the intellect; where the real, the positive, alone has any hold on man, where the real alone has for him the significance of the essential, of the absolute, divine object. On the ground that God is unknowable, man excuses himself to what is yet remaining of his religious conscience for his forgetfulness of God, his absorption in the world: he denies God practically by his conduct — the world has possession of all his thoughts and inclinations — but he does not deny it theoretically, he does not attack its existence; he lets that rest. But this existence does not affect or incommode him.

The denial of determinate, positive predicates concerning the divine nature is nothing else than a denial of religion; it is simply a subtle, disguised atheism. The alleged religious horror of limiting God by positive predicates is only the irreligious wish to know nothing more of God, to banish God from the mind.

Hence the position that there indeed is another, a heavenly life, but that what and how it is must here remain inscrutable, is only an invention of religious scepticism, which, being entirely alien to the religious sentiment, proceeds upon a total misconception of religion.

Ludwig Feuerbach – The Essence of Religion. The Christian heaven

Nobody believes

Let us suppose that I have certain visual and tactual sensations which produce in my mind an association of ideas. For example, when sitting at the table in my study, I have those visual sensations which I call seeing the table and the tactual sensations which I call touching or feeling the table. And an association is set up such that when I have a visual sensation of this kind, a tactual sensation is present as a possibility. Conversely, when I have only a tactual sensation, as when the room is completely dark, a visual sensation is there as a possibility. Further, when I leave the room and later re-enter it, I have similar sensations.

Hence an association is formed in my mind of such a kind that when I am out of the room, I am firmly persuaded that, if I were at any moment to re-enter it, I should or could have similar sensations. Further, as these possible sensations form a group, and as moreover the group is found to enter into various causal relations, I inevitably think of the permanent possibilities of sensations as an abiding physical object. Actual sensations are transient and fugitive. But the possibilities of sensation, associated as a group, remain. The definition of matter as a permanent possibility of sensation is, however, ambiguous. For it easily suggests the idea of a permanent ground of possible sensations, a ground which is itself unknowable.

As for science, this would become a study of the relations between my sensations. But is it credible that if an anatomist looks at a human brain, the object of his examination is simply a set of his own subjective states, actual and possible? In short, the logical result of defining physical objects in terms of sensations is solipsism. And nobody really believes that solipsism is true.

Frederick Copleston – A History of Philosophy, Volume VIII: Modern Philosophy: Empiricism, Idealism, and Pragmatism in Britain and America

The Willful Child

Once upon a time there was a child who was willful and did not do what his mother wanted. For this reason God was displeased with him and caused him to become ill, and no doctor could help him, and in a short time he lay on his deathbed. He was lowered into a grave and covered with earth, but his little arm suddenly came forth and reached up, and it didn’t help when they put it back in and put fresh earth over it, for the little arm always came out again. So the mother herself had to go to the grave and beat the little arm with a switch, and as soon as she had done that, it withdrew, and the child finally came to rest beneath the earth.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm – Household Tales

Honesty of thought

What had availed the fact that I had at least tried to make my thought honest? Indeed, what did we mean by honesty of thought? Was not that, too, vainglory and pride and delusion? What man – or, indeed, what beast – cared about such a bloodless abstraction, when he was warm in his bed, well fed, with his well-beloved close to him, comforting him and transforming existence from its original emptiness to an eternal triumph of comradeship and love? Why had we been created at all, if this agony of isolation could be our lot? How cheap seemed the agnosticism of youth, and yet how hopeless now to try to repudiate its skepticism. I could not say – I tried and tried again – “Our Father, who art in Heaven.” That was weakness and a desire to return to the warm protective womb.

I had tasted of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and now, when so passionately I wanted to sink back into a kind of animal faith, I could not. I could do nothing; thought availed not at all, except to sharpen and intensify the sense of impotence and helplessness and depersonalization. Things – even the rocks and the sea – and myself were in the same blind, sensless category of non-being, of eternal death – made all the more piercing to us by the transient illusion of existence.

Yet if existence is only an illusion, perhaps no reality is stronger than it seems to be; its validity lies in that seeming. For where else could it lie? In an external world, the very awareness of which is necessarily a part of our limitations? There was no clear answer. I was caught in the old solipsistic net. Nor could I extricate myself from it – that is, so long as the pain of knowing I was aware (or the burden of consciousness, if you wish) could not be assuaged.

Harold E. Stearns – The Street I Know: The Autobiography of the Last of the Bohemians

Attack on Solipsism

Solipsism, solegoism, monegoism or selfego – so is called the supreme wisdom of man, this is the ultimate yield of thinking and research that humanity, hungry for truth, received from rationalism and independent, modern philosophy, equipped and supported by so many achievements of science!

Those who know what mood prevails in the world of philosophers and scholars, and who know the conceit and pride of the guild, will easily guess that not all skeptics proclaim their bankruptcy to the world in such form and battue. After and most of all, they are academy members, university professors, magazine editors, authors of works and treaties. They beat around the bush, as they can, when it comes to the nothingness of their knowledge and powerlessness of reasoning, they pull the wool over our eyes with the stream of platitudes, hypotheses, metaphors and sophistry.

There is no lack, however, of those sincere, who show the wound in their mind, in full width, and by preaching the theory that the world is nothing more than just our imagination, admit to the ultimate philosophical misery, to an absolute illusionism, which is nothing but – solipsism.

Wladyslaw M. Debicki – Great intelectual bankruptcy

Insufferable Negligence

Błażej Pascal - francuski matematyk, fizyk i religijny filozof

We know well enough how those who are of this mind behave. They believe they have made great efforts for their instruction, when they have spent a few hours in reading some book of Scripture, and have questioned some priest on the truths of the faith. After that, they boast of having made vain search in books and among men. But, verily, I will tell them what I have often said, that this negligence is insufferable. We are not here concerned with the trifling interests of some stranger, that we should treat it in this fashion; the matter concerns ourselves and our all.

Let them at least learn what is the religion they attack, before attacking it. If this religion boasted of having a clear view of God, and of possessing it open and unveiled, it would be attacking it to say that we see nothing in the world which shows it with this clearness. But since, on the contrary, it says that men are in darkness and estranged from God, that He has hidden Himself from their knowledge, that this is in fact the name which He gives Himself in the Scriptures, D e u s  a b s c o n d i t u s [Isaiah 45:15, a God who hides Himself] – what advantage can they obtain, when, in the negligence with which they make profession of being in search of the truth, they cry out that nothing reveals it to them?

Blaise Pascal – Pensées

Temptation for Immortality

All things in nature have an end; the most beautiful and perfect are the most frail, over which lament philosophers and poets. Why the man was supposed to be different? But why it could not be different?

Feelings and thoughts not only differ from what we call dead matter, but they are diametrically opposite. Conclusions with regards to the spirit, based on an analogy with the matter, have very little or no value. All matter, detached from the experience of sentient beings, has merely hypothetical and non-substantial existence; it is only conjecture to explain our feelings. The spirit, from a philosophical stance, is the only reality that we can prove, and between it and other realities no analogy can be found.

John Stuart Mill – Essays on Religion

What is Zen?

It is presented right to your face, and at this moment the whole thing is handed over to you. For an intelligent fellow, one word should suffice to convince him of the truth of it, but even then error has crept in. Much more so when it is committed to paper and ink, or given up to wordy demonstration or to logical quibble, then it slips farther away from you. The great truth of Zen is possessed by everybody. Look into your own being and seek it not through others. Your own mind is above all forms; it is free and quiet and sufficient. In its light all is absorbed. Hush the dualism of subject and object, forget both, transcend the intellect, sever yourself from the understanding.

Miyun Yuanwu

The basic idea of Zen is to come in touch with the inner workings of our being, and to do this in the most direct way possible, without resorting to anything external. Therefore, anything that has the semblance of an external authority is rejected by Zen. Absolute faith is placed in a man’s own inner being. For whatever authority there is in Zen, all comes from within. This is true in the strictest sense of the word.

Zen professes itself to be the spirit of Buddhism, but in fact it is the spirit of all religions and philosophies. When Zen is thoroughly understood, absolute peace of mind is attained, and a man lives as he ought to live. What more may we hope?

For Zen reveals itself in the most uninteresting and uneventful life of a plain man of the street, recognizing the fact of living in the midst of life as it is lived. Zen systematically trains the mind to see this; it opens a man’s eye to the greatest mystery as it is daily and hourly performed; it enlarges the heart to embrace eternity of time and infinity of space in its every palpitation; it makes us live in the world as if walking in the garden of Eden; and all these spiritual feats are accomplished without resorting to any doctrines but by simply asserting in the most direct way the truth that lies in our inner being.

Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki – An Introduction to Zen Buddhism

Γνῶθι σεαυτόν

In both East and West, we may trace a journey which has led humanity down the centuries to meet and engage truth more and more deeply. It is a journey which has unfolded—as it must—within the horizon of personal self-consciousness.

The more human beings know reality and the world, the more they know themselves in their uniqueness, with the question of the meaning of things and of their very existence becoming ever more pressing. This is why all that is the object of our knowledge becomes a part of our life.

The admonition “KNOW THYSELF” was carved on the temple portal at Delphi, as testimony to a basic truth to be adopted as a minimal norm by those who seek to set themselves apart from the rest of creation as “human beings”, that is as those who “know themselves”.

John Paul II – Fides et ratio

The Age of Volatile Belief

The age of volatile belief is intimately linked with the impact of the technetronic revolution on existing ideologies and outlooks on life. What man thinks is closely related to what man experiences. The relationship between the two is not causal but interacting: experience affects thought, and thought conditions the interpretation of experience.

Today the dominant pattern seems increasingly to be that of highly individualistic, unstructured, changing perspectives. Institutionalized beliefs, the result of the merger of ideas and institutions, no longer appear to many as vital and relevant, while the skepticism that has contributed so heavily to the undermining of institutionalized beliefs now clashes with the new emphasis on passion and involvement. The result for many is an era of fads, of rapidly shifting beliefs, with emotions providing for some the unifying cement previously supplied by institutions and with the faded revolutionary slogans of the past providing the needed inspiration for facing an altogether different future.

Zbigniew Brzezinski – Between Two Ages. America’s Role in the Technetronic Era

Counterpoint

5.6
The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.

5.62
This remark provides a key to the question, to what extent solipsism is a truth. In fact what solipsism means, is quite correct, only it cannot be said, but it shows itself.

5.621
The world and life are one.

5.631
The thinking, presenting subject; there is no such thing.

5.632
The subject does not belong to the world but it is a limit of the world.

5.64
Here we see that solipsism strictly carried out coincides with pure realism. The I in solipsism shrinks to an extensionless point and there remains the reality co-ordinated with it.

5.641
The I occurs in philosophy through the fact that the “world is my world”.

6.5
For an answer which cannot be expressed the question too cannot be expressed. The riddle does not exist.

7
Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

Ludwig Wittgenstein – Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

The Powerlessness of Words

GorgiaszFor how could any one communicate by word of mounth that he has seen? And how could that which has been seen be identical to a listener if he has not seen it? He who speaks, speaks, but does not speak a color or a thing. When, therefore, one has not a thing in the mind, how will he get it there from another person by word or any other token of the thing except by seeing it, if it is a color, or hearing it, if it is a noise? For he who speaks does not speak a noise at all, or a color, but a word.

But even if it is possible to know things, and to express whatever one knows in words, yet how can the hearer have in his mind the same thing as the speaker? For the same thing cannot be present simultaneously in several separate people; for in that case the one would be two.

But if the same thing could be present in several persons, there is no reason why it should not appear dissimilar to them, if they are not themselves entirely similar and are not in the same place; for if they were in the same place they would be one and not two. So a man can scarcely perceive the same thing as someone else.

Gorgias

The false alternative


You have heard no concepts of morality but the mystical or the social. You have been taught that morality is a code of behavior imposed on you by whim, the whim of a supernatural power or the whim of society, to serve God’s purpose or your neighbor’s welfare, to please an authority beyond the grave or else next door—but not to serve your life or pleasure.

For centuries, the battle of morality was fought between those who claimed that your life belongs to God and those who claimed that it belongs to your neighbors—between those who preached that the good is self-sacrifice for the sake of ghosts in heaven and those who preached that the good is self-sacrifice for the sake of incompetents on earth. And no one came to say that your life belongs to you and that the good is to live it.

A being who does not hold his own life as the motive and goal of his actions, is acting on the motive and standard of death. Such a being is a metaphysical monstrosity, struggling to oppose, negate and contradict the fact of his own existence, running blindly amuck on a trail of destruction, capable of nothing but pain.

Ayn Rand – Atlas Shrugged

The Power of Words

The power of words is bound up with the images they evoke, and is quite independent of their real significance. Words whose sense is the most ill-defined are sometimes those that possess the most influence. Such, for example, are the terms democracy, equality, liberty, &c., whose meaning is so vague that bulky volumes do not suffice to precisely fix it. Yet it is certain that a truly magical power is attached to those short syllables, as if they contained the solution of all problems. They synthesise the most diverse unconscious aspirations and the hope of their realisation.

Reason and arguments are incapable of combatting certain words and formulas. They are uttered with solemnity in the presence of crowds, and as soon as they have been pronounced an expression of respect is visible on every countenance, and all heads are bowed. By many they are considered as natural forces, as supernatural powers. They evoke grandiose and vague images in men’s minds, but this very vagueness that wraps them in obscurity augments their mysterious power. They are the mysterious divinities hidden behind the tabernacle, which the devout only approach in fear and trembling.

It was by invoking liberty and fraternity — words very popular at the time — that the Jacobins were able to install a despotism worthy of Dahomey, a tribunal similar to that of the Inquisition, and to accomplish human hecatombs akin to those of ancient Mexico.

One of the most essential functions of statesmen consists, then, in baptizing with popular or, at any rate, indifferent words things the crowd cannot endure under their old names. The power of words is so great that it suffices to designate in well-chosen terms the most odious things to make them acceptable to crowds.

Gustave Le Bon – The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind

Remembrance Of Things Past

But when a belief vanishes, there survives it—more and more ardently, so as to cloak the absence of the power, now lost to us, of imparting reality to new phenomena—an idolatrous attachment to the old things which our belief in them did once animate, as if it was in that belief and not in ourselves that the divine spark resided, and as if our present incredulity had a contingent cause—the death of the gods.

The places that we have known belong now only to the little world of space on which we map them for our own convenience. None of them was ever more than a thin slice, held between the contiguous impressions that composed our life at that time; remembrance of a particular form is but regret for a particular moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the years.

Marcel Proust – Swann’s Way

 

schloss2

Solipsism of Zen

In this whole world everyone searches for happiness outside, but nobody understands their true self inside. Everybody says, “I” — “I want this, I am like that…” But nobody understands this “I.” Before you were born, where did your I come from? When you die, where will your I go? If you sincerely ask, “what am I?” sooner or later you will run into a wall where all thinking is cut off. We call this “don’t know.” Zen is keeping this “Don’t Know” mind always and everywhere.

Seung Sahn

Erased Individualism

– The individualism of the people has been erased in this society.
– What do you mean by erased individualism?
– He is incapable of independent thinking, and therefore, he always rejects what is rejected by society, and accepts what is accepted by society.
– So „team spirit” prevails?
– It is the spirit of a herd, not of a team. It is the spirit of the herd that cannot free itself from the captivity of the prevailing culture. Whatever society considers to be good. the individual considers to be good. He is incapable of independent thinking and benefiting from the cultures of others. He is incapable of stepping out of the mold imposed on him since childhood.
– Should the individual be rebellious, for example?
– Not rebellious, but he should seek the truth. He must not efface his self and dissolve into the herd.

Ibrahim Al-Buleihi

Everything but a Feeling

LichtenbergWhen at different periods in life one speculates about solipsism (which considers all material bodies as nothing more than just our ideas), it usually happens as follows:

  1. First, as boys, we laugh at the absurdity of this idealism.
  2. A little bit later, this theory seems to us witty and presumable; we discuss it eagerly with people who in terms of age or education, are still in the first period.
  3. At a more mature age, we consider it to be very accurate, we annoy ourselves and others with it, but we think it is unworthy of disproving and against nature. Man believes that it is not worth brooding over it, because it seems to him that he had thought enough about it.
  4. In the end, however, after deeper deliberation this idealism becomes the truth quite invincible for him.

Please only think that even if there are any items outside of our mind, we know nothing about their objective reality. Everything we receive is solely through our impressions and ideas. The belief that these impressions and ideas are caused in our mind by external objects, is after all nothing more than just our idea again. There is no way to overcome idealism, since we would always be only idealists, even if there were material objects around us, because we could know absolutely nothing of the essence of these objects.

Everything is but a feeling; knowledge of external things would be a contradiction: man cannot go beyond himself. By judging that we perceive material external objects, we are clearly in the wrong, because we only see ourselves, i.e. our imagination. Nothing in the world can we know except ourselves and except changes which occur in us. Also, we cannot feel for someone else or as them, as we say sometimes: we only feel for ourselves. This sentiment seems strange, but on closer deliberation ceases to be such. No one loves a father, mother, wife and children, but only loves pleasant feelings that these people cause; these feelings flatter either our pride or our self-love; we love ourselves, i.e. ourselves in someone, but not that someone. It cannot be otherwise, anyone who denies this assertion, does not understand it.

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg – Vermischte Schriften

Contradiction of Faith and Love

Faith is the opposite of love. It was faith, not love, not reason, which invented Hell. To love, Hell is a horror; to reason, an absurdity. Hell sweetens the joys of happy believers.

God is love. This is the sublimest dictum of Christianity. But the contradiction of faith and love is contained in the very proposition. Love is only a predicate, God the subject. What, then, is this subject in distinction from love? The necessity of the distinction would be done away with only if it were said conversely: Love is God, love is the absolute being. Thus love would take the position of the substance. But love does not alone fill my soul: I leave a place open for my uncharitableness by thinking of God as a subject in distinction from the predicate.

Necessarily; for in Christianity love is tainted by faith, it is not free, it is not apprehended truly. A love which is limited by faith is an untrue love. Love knows no law but itself; it is divine through itself; it needs not the sanction of faith; it is its own basis. The love which is bound by faith is a narrow-hearted, false love, contradicting the idea of love, i.e., self-contradictory,— a love which has only a semblance of holiness, for it hides in itself the hatred that belongs to faith; it is only benevolent so long as faith is not injured. Hence, in this contradiction with itself, in order to retain the semblance of love, it falls into the most diabolical sophisms, as we see in Augustine’s apology for the persecution of heretics. Love is limited by faith; hence it does not regard even the uncharitable actions which faith suggests as in contradiction with itself; it interprets the deeds of hatred which are committed for the sake of faith as deeds of love.

The Bible curses through faith, blesses through love. But the only love it knows is a love founded on faith. Thus here already it is a love which curses, an unreliable love, a love which gives me no guarantee that it will not turn into hatred; for if I do not acknowledge the articles of faith, I am out of the sphere of love, a child of hell, an object of anathema, of the anger of God, to whom the existence of unbelievers is a vexation, a thorn in the eye. Christian love has not overcome hell, because it has not overcome faith. Love is in itself unbelieving, faith unloving. And love is unbelieving because it knows nothing more divine than itself, because it believes only in itself as absolute truth.

Christian love is already signalised as a particular, limited love, by the very epithet, Christian. But love is in its nature universal. So long as Christian love does not renounce its qualification of Christian, does not make love, simply, its highest law, so long is it a love which is injurious to the sense of truth, for the very office of love is to abolish the distinction between Christianity and so-called heathenism;— so long is it a love which by its particularity is in contradiction with the nature of love, an abnormal, loveless love, which has therefore long been justly an object of sarcasm. True love is sufficient to itself; it needs no special title, no authority.

Ludwig Feuerbach – The Essence of Christianity